IACOCCA: An Autobiography by Lee with William Novak Iacocca
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IACOCCA: An Autobiography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In a fight--with his old boss Henry Ford, with business leaders who opposed the Chrysler bailout--Iacocca comes out punching. Otherwise this is banquet-circuit and management-seminar fare from one winner you can't help rooting for--especially after the Ford-sacking-""humiliation"" opener. Iacocca's rise, punctuated with lessons (a lifelong pattern), is an old-but-good story: Depression-era Allentown, Pa.; immigrant father Nicola's hard-working, customer-pleasing, resilient example; local Italian-baiting, solid schooling, WW II deferment (childhood rheumatic fever) and small, ""exclusive"" Lehigh classes; the shift from engineering to business; the family passion for cars, allegiance to Ford; and then, in August 1946, the start of 32 years with the company. This is the part that's a go-getting classic (less puffed-up than in David Abodaher's 1982 Iacocca). Hired on as a student engineer, Iacocca had to wangle his own low-level sales job, in the field. ""I had no natural talent."" I.e., this salesman was made, not born--via study and practice, cultivating dealers, cribbing from mentors. ""And so, after ten years of preparation, I became an overnight success""--with the ""56 for '56"" payment scheme ($56 a month for a '56 Ford). He was called to Dearborn, soon took over car and truck marketing, crossed paths with Robert McNamara (lucky to escape Henry's clutches to Washington), as well as other, less-admired ""bean counters."" There follows: Iacocca's management philosophy (""a regular system of review,"" decisiveness, etc.); the ""incredible"" Mustang success, the Lincoln-Mercury rescue; and, with the hiring of Bunkie Knudsen from GM as prexy, Henry's offenses against the company, its best performers, and Iacocca personally. . . because, in Iacocca's plausible view, he was the rich heir, unsure of himself, who feared and loathed competition. The strictures are savage: ""The arbitrary use of power wasn't merely a character flaw. It was something Henry actually believed in."" When Henry pleaded for ""equal opportunity,"" then referred to blacks as ""coons""--""I knew I was working for a real bastard."" There's considerable here on Renaissance Center rigging, not so much grim stuff on Ford's 1975-78 vendetta against Iacocca as elsewhere. Then comes the firing, the refusal-to-fade-away, the comeback: Chrysler's parlous state (no numbers, the notorious sales bank, etc.--familiar from Moritz & Seaman, Going for Broke); ""Building the Team""--mostly Ford defectors and retirees; the 1979 energy crisis, the recession; and, the real climax, the fight for government loan guarantees to keep Chrysler alive--with blasts at the Wall Street Journal and other free-enterprise diehards, and accolades for House Speaker Tip O'Neill, the congressional ""Italian caucus,"" the UAW's Doug Fraser, and President Jimmy Carter. (If the Republicans had been in, Chrysler would be dead--but if the crisis had occurred a little later, when other companies were also in trouble, nobody would have gotten anything.) There's lots of justifiable pride, some sweet revenge (Iacocca prepaid the loan ""five years to the day"" from his Ford firing)--but also regrets that a Chrysler/Ford merger didn't go through, Iacocca talks about those commercials, disclaims political ambitions (if he'd been ten years younger. . .), winds up with a tribute to staunch wife Mary, a diabetic who died in 1983, and three chapters of assorted views (proseat belts, anti-COLA, pro-industrial policy)--plus an epilogue on the Statue of Liberty restoration, with an appeal for funds. (Never make a speech without asking for something, he'd learned early.) As a book, not the equal of that ""expressive face""--but likably unpretentious and unguarded.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0553251473
Publisher: Bantam